Once you get past the quirky bohemia of the characters’ lives, Anchor and Hope (Tierra Firme) reveals itself to be a thoughtful, meditative look at the stage in life where the urge to become a parent appears out of nowhere – and the problems that this can cause on your life and relationships. Director Carlos Marques-Marcet, here making his (mostly) English language debut, has crafted a low key character study that takes the big questions surrounding parental responsibility and grounds them in a quietly moving relationship drama. You may not be pondering over whether it’s suitable to raise a child on a canal boat, but the film’s central narrative dilemma is sure to provoke in-depth discussions amongst couples.
Eva (Oona Chaplin) and Kat (Natalia Tena) are a couple in their early thirties, living together in Kat’s houseboat and constantly roaming around London. When Kat’s best friend Roger (David Verdaguer) comes over from Barcelona to stay with the pair, the tension between Eva and Kat comes out into the open – Eva is desperate for a child, while Kat is concerned that the bohemian lifestyle they’ve forged for themselves would be compromised by parenthood. Drunkenly, against the initial wishes of Kat, Eva and Roger claim that they should help each other out, and start the process of helping Eva get pregnant. This doesn’t cause immediate friction between the three, but when dramatic events unfold later on during the pregnancy stage, the very fabric of the relationship itself may never be the same again.
Although there is beautiful cinematography, that manages to capture the quaint beauty of London’s canals and the suburbs surrounding them, this is a film where the substance is prioritised before the style. The film is built entirely around the strengths of its actors, who manage to make their characters feel lived in, and even somewhat relatable due to their relationship issues – and making bohemian characters who live on a houseboat feel relatable is no easy feat. With all due respect to David Verdaguer’s supporting performance as Roger, who excels as being the comic relief even when the weight of the central story makes it harder for levity to register, the film works best as two contrasting character studies, brought to life by two exceptional performances.
As Eva, Oona Chaplin is the closest thing the audience has to a surrogate character, even as the brunt of the domestic drama relies on her. She may be forward in her desires to become a mother, yet Chaplin plays her as the only character with their head screwed firmly on their shoulders – she projects an emotional maturity that outweighs everybody in her orbit, making her struggle feel all the more empathetic as a result. Which isn’t to say Natalia Tena’s performance is defined by playing the exact opposite; she’s not immature, so much as she has a less developed view of adult responsibilities, and doesn’t want them to compromise her own carefree lifestyle in any way. It’s easy to imagine another actress making this character difficult to feel sympathy for; in Tena’s hands, she’s likeable in spite of her flaws.
Despite the contrasts in their characters, both Chaplin and Tena downplay any dramatic tensions that would lead to a more conventional conflict.There are no screamed arguing matches here, although that could equally suggest that it’s the beginning of the end, and the two can’t even find passionate stances on vital issues keeping their partnership alive. Marques-Marcet’s screenplay, co-written with Jules Nurrish, keeps the eventual fate of their relationship as ambiguous as possible, never clarifying whether later happy moments are representative of a newly rekindled passion, or a brief light in a relationship whose problems can’t be salvaged now they’re in the open.
Anchor and Hope (Tierra Firme) is a complex, mature relationship drama that feels nothing less than believable, even as it presents a lifestyle that’s likely alien to most viewers. But with three great performances at its centre, this is never a problem – it is quietly moving, even as it asks us to confront our own issues with parenthood.